Local Malay cuisine is often relegated to the discount end of the spectrum in Kuala Lumpur, with more exotic fares monopolizing the fine dining options. However Bijan is an attempt to buck that trend and reveals the potential for sophistication in Malaysia’s food culture. The award-winning restaurant serves Malaysia classics in a refined manner, which nevertheless retains the punchiness of the typical Malay flavors. Particularly outstanding dishes include the sumptuous Opor Rusuk, slow cooked beef ribs, and Rendang Kambing, lamb shoulder cooked in an infusion of spices.
3 Jalan Ceylon, 50200 KL, +603 20313575
The Bird Restaurant
One of the foremost purveyors of Nyonya cuisine, a mixture of Chinese and Malay traditions, The Bird Restaurant combines authentic cooking with eccentric charm. The restaurant is run by Desmond Liew and his two cousins, who are all actors and singers with a tendency to serenade their guests with nostalgic hits. The décor is decidedly retro with a combination of pictures and antiques, including traditional birdcages, evoking both colonial Malaysia and Hollywood glamour. The food is equally idiosyncratic, featuring a unique take on Nyonya. Highlights include Choy Po Tofu and Nyonya Fish, a spicy crispy fish dish.
Enak takes the best elements of Malaysian food and refines them to produce original versions of classic dishes. This combination of nostalgic home cooking and a fine dining sensibility makes Enak another advocate for raising Malay cuisine to fine dining heights. Traditional dishes such as Satay, Gado-Gado and Rendang Padang are all given a contemporary twist. The restaurant also attempts to rediscover forgotten flavors and dishes by trawling the cultural memory of Kuala Lumpur’s residents. One such dish is Botok-Botok, a mackerel steamed in aromatic ground spices and combined with papaya, laksa leaves and cassava shoots.
Combining the best of Malay cooking with the traditions of Southeast Asia, Songket offers its diners a comprehensive cultural experience. Songket gets its name from a type of intricately patterned, hand-woven and traditional fabric which adorns the restaurant walls. Diners are also entertained with regular performances of traditional Malay singing and dancing. The menu features staples such as Masak Lemak Udang Nanas, prawn and pineapple chunks, and Rusuk Salai Berkicap, chargrilled marinated short ribs.
29, Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, 50450 KL, +603 21613331
The 39 Restaurant
Boasting panoramic views of the city, The 39 Restaurant is a taste of Malay luxury within Kuala Lumpur’s PNB Darby Park. It sits on the 39th floor of this hotel and offers views straight across to the Petronas Twin Towers. The food is similar high class, a luxurious buffet style takes on classical Malay flavors, all prepared by renowned Chef Ismail. The al fresco dining option allows customers to enjoy the incredible skyline of Kuala Lumpur.
PNB Darby Park, 10 Jalan Binjai, 50450 KL, +603 74903333.
Nasi Kandar Pelita
A family-run restaurant chain that stays true to its humble origins, Nasi Kandar Pelita is one of the most popular restaurants in Kualu Lumpur and is an indispensable introduction to truly local cuisine. Nasi Kandar was originally an Indian Muslim dish and it is this cultural heritage that Nasi Kandar Pelita mines most deeply, serving an array of mouth-watering Indian inspired dishes. The hearty food is perfect for travellers on a budget and the accessibility of these restaurants is evident in the eclectic range of diners who fill them. Some of their best ‘appetite busters’ include Sambal Udang, ‘tongue tingling’ tiger prawns, and Burung Puyuh, fried quail prepared with herbs and spices.
Lot 10 Hutong Food Court
A modern take on traditional hawker market stalls, this food hall combines the best Chinese–Malay street food of Kuala Lumpur under one roof, retaining the simplicity and convenience of market food in a more comfortable setting. The punch and zest of hawker street food flavors is also still in abundance as is the convivial atmosphere, which makes a visit to Lot 10 such a unique cultural experience. The most celebrated stalls are Imbi Road Original Pork Noodles, Ho Weng Kee’s Chinese Char Siew, Chua Brothers Duck Egg Char Kuay Teow and Soong Kee Beef Noodles. The combination of such a range of street food classics makes this a veritable hawker buffet, and the budget required is minimal.
Offering the best of Johorean cuisine, D’cengkih has become a firm favourite on the Kuala Lumpur restaurant scene for its celebration of this southern Malaysian cuisine. Johorean food traces its roots to Arab influences, which have merged with the classical rice and noodle dishes of Malaysia. D’cengkih is a culinary outpost of this cooking in KL and is a haven for those seeking to experience the variety of Malaysian cuisine. Their specialties include Laksa Johor, a Johorean take on the classic spicy noodle soup, and Mee Rebus, a noodle curry served with seafood.
6, Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 60000 KL, +603 0124999908.
Ah Koong Restaurant
Specializing in fish ball noodles, a traditional dish of Malaysia, Ah Koong is one of Kuala Lumper’s most popular restaurants. Since opening in 1987, its take on the culinary tradition of the fish ball has seen it rise exponentially to become one of the most well-known institutions of the Malaysian restaurant scene. The food is simple, focusing on the pure fish ball flavors that are popular throughout Malaysia. Alongside this signature dish, Ah Koong also serves yong tauhu, fish soup and porridge, fresh oyster soup, abalone soup, and the ubiquitous laksa.
Precious Old China
Located above Kuala Lumpur’s historic Central Market, which was originally built in 1888, Precious Old China is laden with historical artifacts and cultural relics. Its kitchen is run by renowned Nyonya chef John Locke and has immense pedigree on the Kuala Lumpur restaurant scene. The team has a distinctly old school approach to dining, and their traditional take on Chinese–Malaysian classics echoes the vintage interior, whilst its relatively budget menu remains enticing to tired market shoppers. Specialties include Otak Otak, a cake made of fish meat and spices, wrapped in a banana leaf, and a very invigorating Fish Head Curry.